A Window into the Past

Blogging challenges, National Trust, North Yorkshire, Ripon

I’m back volunteering at Fountains Abbey, and every time I’m there, I’ll spend time in the ruined Abbey itself.  I’ll gaze up at the voids which were once windows.  Any stone tracery has long disappeared, revealing views of the sky and trees beyond.  And I wonder what the monks saw, during their long hours of worship – eight sessions a day, the first at 2.00 a.m., when the night was charcoal-black and only smoky tallow candles lit the space?  The ascetic Cistercians had no statuary in their churches, little stained glass, so the monks probably glimpsed a barely-to-be-discerned landscape beyond, through water-greenish, slightly uneven glass.

In her challenge this week, Jude has invited us to compare the same scene in colour, and in black and white.  I thought it would be interesting to do this in a building in which colour plays little part.  Surely there would be little difference?  Well, apparently there is.  I find the black and white version a little too austere for my tastes. What do you think?

And here’s a view of the Abbey with Huby’s Tower, which was completed a mere 13 years before Henry VIII brought the Fountains Abbey community to an end in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  I’ve tried to show it more as it might have looked then, set in a wilder landscape than the manicured parkland we see today.  And when it came to the monochrome version – well, there’s black and white, and black and white.  Again, there are choices here ….

2020 Photo Challenge #34

Monday Window

50 thoughts on “A Window into the Past

  1. I love these ruined abbeys scattered around. The photos are good and, while I prefer the softer B&W for the distant photo, I prefer the colour one of the windows as it better highlights the rich hues of the stone.

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  2. Lovely pictures, I think colour is best. The tones in the stones are beautiful and interesting but don’t pop in b&w.

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  3. Wonderful windows, or rather remembrances of windows. When it comes to B&W that is a different art altogether, how the colors are translated, emphasized, how the tones are shifted. These photos lend themselves to marvelous interpretation in B&W. You should not attempt to compare a color version with a quick B&W. That is like comparing apples and sea shells. B&W is a different way of seeing the world. It hakes time, effort and dedication. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Am always envious when I read about your time spent at Fountains. It is a fascinating site. I was wondering whether you set you camera to take black and white or whether you changed colour shots to black and white.

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      1. Reading some of the comments above, it looks like black and white photography is a very considered affair. I find it hard to see past colour. Like you I change the shots and see what I get.

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  5. One of the wonderful things about Fountains Abbey is the peaceful, green setting. Your black and white photo with the soft focus background manages to convey something of the setting without the colour but I think the colour does improve it. It’s a lovely photo, grounding the abbey in wild countryside rather than manicured lawns.

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    1. They’re allowing it to grow much wilder since lockdown. I much prefer it. I think there is a place for black and white here, but not necessarily in the photos I took.

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  6. I know your challenge was for B & W but I think that sepia would suit this image rather well. I am always in awe at the feat of engineering and construction of these ancient buildings…and yes, I too wonder what life would have been like in such austere surroundings.

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    1. Sepia? A good idea. I’ll try that. Thanks. Well, it was certainly austere in many ways – no heating except in the depths of winter, middle of the night prayers and so on. But on the other hand, there was always food on the table, nobody could force you to go to war, so there were compensations. And you’re right. I always look at these buildings and wonder how they were possible with the technology available.

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  7. I always enjoy these compare and contrast posts. With the first set, the colour version is a clear winner for me. Love the warmth of the stone with the green. With the second set I prefer the b & w but which one? Initially I felt the stronger contrast was better but now I’m not so sure. It occurs to me that it depends on the narrative I’m consciously or otherwise attaching to a shot. The trio make me think nostalgically – not of the timelessness of the abbey itself but of a visit to the ruins… maybe in the 50s…. A story begins to weave itself around that image and leads me to favour the softer version. You, of course, will have had entirely different intentions for taking that particular shot…

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    1. That’s such an interesting point. Yes, I was seeking a viewpoint in which the abbey was part of a wilder landscape, and in that sense, the more dynamic black and white image worked better for me. But a different story might want a different emphasis. One commenter, Al,said he’s like to see it in sepia, and I can see why. I might explore this further.

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  8. The abbey looks fascinating – somehow such an immense building partially ruined invites an even greater appreciation of its size and structure and the processes that might have been involved in its construction.
    I think I prefer the colour version for both photos.

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      1. I think the trees behind the arches are a distraction in the black and white version but form a nice contrast in the colour pic. Also as mentioned the colours in the stone are lovely.

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  9. Yep. I’m with everyone in preferring the coloured version of the top photo but I also prefer the coloured version of the bottom one though the left-hand darker b/w was a very close second. Fountains Abbey is a very special place; so atmospheric! I can imagine it must look better now it is less manicured.

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  10. The monochrome version of the window photo seems to have flattened out the levels, so the stone and the leaves have the same tone. The colour version is much more inviting.
    I usually go for high contrast monochrome over softer tones, but I much prefer the second bw version of the tower. Its haziness lends itself to the cow parsley in the foreground and the softer focus of the tower. It brightens what is quite a leaden sky in the colour version, too.
    Lovely pictures. They bring back memories of a school trip to Fountains Abbey and Skipton Castle in my first year of secondary school. I loved the tranquility of the abbey.

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    1. And with reduced visitor numbers it’s pretty tranquil these days. I wonder if you dressed up as monks for the day, as schoolchildren did until the dreaded Lockdown? Thanks for your thoughtful observations.

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      1. If only! Dressing up wasn’t on offer in 1983. We looked at the ruins, listened to someone tell us about the Reformation, did some sketching and had a picnic by the river.

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    1. It happens all the time. Yes, many buildings round here can claim part of Fountains Abbey or other religious buildings as part of their fabric. In some ways, I like this continuity, this recycling.

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